Croquet's greatest players rarely stuff hoops. Watch current World Champion Robert Fulford play an entire tournament, and I'll bet you he misses less than one hoop shot per game. Why? Rushes...
Line rushes, cut rushes, dead rushes, long and shot rushes, and other rushes all make the next shots either difficult, somewhat testy, or easy. Watch a top level billiard player, and he will seldom have a difficult shot. Why? "Poe," or positioning.
At entry and intermediate level croquet, if a player can rush off a boundary line or out of a corner, take croquet, and then successfully run the hoop at least 90% of the time, many more games will be won than lost. On the flip side, what if the rushed ball stops nine feet short of the hoop, and the ensuing roll shot or take-off doesn't leave the striker with a hoop shot of less than two feet? By the cruel law of averages, a good percentage of hoops will be stuffed, and the striker ball may even clang off the side of a stanchion.
Now what? Usually, that ball is partner dead. (Oh, woe is me.) If both balls are partner dead, there aren't really too many more arrows in one's quiver. The most valuable practice that newer players can do is repeat rushes. One method is to set a stake in the middle of a court, take eight balls to a boundary line, and start rushing them to the stake. Stalk each shot, get your line of swing, and forget the target ball. Using controlled, slow backswings, with plenty of follow-through, rush the balls until they are all within one foot of the centre stake. Practice this, and you will soon be rushing off the boundary to within a few feet of your next hoop. Then, it's a simple little shot, sending your ball to within 18 of the hoop. Stalk the ball, take a deep breath, and run yet another hoop.
Voila! Another point has been tallied, and as importantly, your ball is alive on the world!
Intermediate Level: Draw-A Question Of Friction" Draw, or Pull, is entirely due to friction. As Stan Hall explained so well in a recent issue of The Australian Croquet Gazette, "simple rules for various croquet strokes are based on the assumption of frictionless balls. Friction causes small but significant deviations from these rules." As we discussed in the Fall '92 Issue of The Mallet, only practice will allow the player to calculate how much draw will be imparted on to both the striker's ball and the croqueted ball. The type of balls being used, how long the mallet is in contact with the ball, the type of stroke being attempted, and the court surface all affect the amount of draw.
If a player has been playing with Jaques balls, and enters a tournament where Barlow or Dawson balls are being used, the draw on a long split shot can be enormous, and at times can appear absolutely irrational. Many a break has been abandoned after one's pioneer ball ended up clanging off a wicket or the stake, never coming close to the desired "next wicket but one."
Exact calculation of draw is necessary when lining up peel shots, or cannons. If the peelee ball is two feet in front of the hoop, perhaps 15 degrees off centre, the striker's stop shot must be hit exactly along the line of the two centres. Even the slightest mistake will usually result in the dreaded stuffed wicket, with the striker ball in too close for a successful jump shot. Dead on partner ball, how sad, disaster, what to do? Retire to a boundary, or !eave both balls close together on court? Remember, croquet is fun...
Practice draw with different types of shot. Get some grass stains on your white trousers or shorts, and soon you will be using draw to advantage in your games. Who will be the first Canadian croquet player to win a tournament game by executing a triple peel, or TPO? - Ross Robinson